Mark Gustavson’s Squidsicle

If you fish for stripers and tie striper flies, and you don’t know about Mark Gustavson’s excellent website Fly Fishing For Moriches Bay Striped Bass, you should. It’s a hidden gem. I don’t think Mark actively posts anymore, but his fly patterns, heavily influenced by Ken Abrames, are lovely. They’re also effective. Here’s my take on his excellent Squidsicle, reminiscent of Ken’s Banana Squid. I used an Eagle Claw 253 size 4/0 instead of the Mustard 3407DT size 3/0.

Mark Gustavson’s Squidsicle, ready to swim. Try fishing a fly like this along shorelines, troughs and flats, using a gentle hand-twist retrieve. Beware of the tap! The tap isn’t the take; rather, it’s the striper flaring its gills and sucking the fly into its mouth. Wait for the pull and the weight of the fish, then set the hook. 

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Orvis PRO Wading Boot Review: Finally, a wading shoe that doesn’t suck!

Orvis PRO Wading Boots, where have you been? I’ve worn many different brands of wading boots over the years and disliked most of them. (Some I even hated — we’ll get to that shortly.) Even my all-time favorite boot, made by LLBean — I forget the model name and they are long since discontinued — had a tragic flaw: the rubber sole of the boot would come unglued after a season or two. I eventually got tired of returning them.

I only ask three things of boots: support, grip, and don’t be too heavy on my feet. My last two sets of boots have been the Simms G3 Guide Boots with Vibram Soles. Don’t ask me why I suffered through two pairs of those horrid creations. Yep, I hated them. They were very supportive, albeit a little heavy. But the traction — what a catastrophe. Without studs and star cleats, they were treacherous. With the added steel, they were only moderately dangerous. Good riddance, because my new Orvis PRO Wading Boots are everything the Simms are not.

Wow…slip the Orvis PRO Wading Boots on and walk around and they’re not only supportive, but light on the feet. So far, so good. But the real test is, if you’ll pardon the expression, where the rubber meets the road. Orvis claims their Michelin Outdoor extreme outsole offers “a resounding 43% improvement in wet rubber traction over the competition.” Still, I’m a skeptic, and I love me some carbide steel bite, so I ordered the Orvis Posigrip Studs along with the boots.

I’ve put these boots through some mission-critical paces: small streams, which involve wading and hiking on dry land; ocean wading, jetty rock-hopping, and saltwater marsh slogging; and, what I consider the ultimate test, wading in the Housatonic and the Farmington Rivers, both of which have their own unique (and potentially dastardly) rocky bottom structure.

The verdict? Sold! Traction, support, comfort. Highly recommended.

In the interest of fairness, I am not affiliated with Orvis, and I paid for the Orvis PRO Wading Boots with my own coin. Well done, Orvis.

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Tying the R.L.S. Mutable Squid Flatwing

Tucked away in the back pages of Ken Abrames’ masterwork A Perfect Fish are three squid patterns you should have in your box: the R.L.S Indigo Squid, the R.L.S. Orange and Blue Squidazzle, and today’s tying feature, the R.L.S. Mutable Squid. Don’t be mislead by the fact that these patterns didn’t make the main squid chapter of the book; Ken thinks highly of them, particularly the Orange and Blue Squidazzle. Perhaps the under-rated gem of the bunch is the Mutable Squid.

If you do know diddley-squid, you know they can change their colors in an instant, so the name is apropos. I only fished this fly once, and it produced — stripers love squid — so I figured it was time to have another in my box. And here it is, hot off the vise, for your viewing and tying pleasure.

R.L.S. Mutable Squid

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253
Thread: Gray
Platform: Light gray
Support: Gray neck hackle
Tail: First, a medium-gray saddle, second, a ginger saddle, third, 4 pearl Flashabou, fourth, a pink saddle, fifth, 5 strands Flashabou one each red, gold, blue, emerald green, purple, sixth, a medium-gray saddle.
Body: Light blue braid
Collar: Bucktail, medium gray, bottom and both sides
Wing: Bucktail, medium gray
Cheeks: First, 3 hairs each orange, turquoise, chartreuse, violet, pink; second, Lady Amherst pheasant tippets, one each side.
Eyes: Jungle cock

 

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Tying Notes: Construction should be intuitive. I used 6/0 thread and a 3/0 hook.  I chose hair from the lower part of the bucktail for the collar and wing to get a bit of flaring action (the fly has not yet been shaped). The flash is 1″ longer than the saddles, giving this tie a total length of 8 1/2″.

 

 

Block Island All-Nighter X: The X Factor

You never know what you’re going to get on a Block Island All-Nighter. My tenth reminded me that I’m not young anymore. The spirit is willing, but after nine straight hours and no sleep, the body protests. The last time I did this was 2015 — I had to look it up — but the conditions were perfect in terms of tide (high at dusk), moon (new) and weather (consistent SW flow), so going was almost an imperative on principle alone. Besides, I’d have company, old pal Peter Jenkins, owner of The Saltwater Edge. So off we went aboard the 7pm ferry.

Logistics were a challenge. Be advised that fewer ferries are running and passenger numbers are limited. We couldn’t get a car reservation, and taxi service on the Island was deemed spotty due to the current situation. That meant renting a Jeep, which worked out just right. Here’s Jenks doing some leader prep as we sail past Crescent Beach. I like a simple 7’6″ straight shot of 25# or 30# mono. Block bass are not leader shy.

Jenks

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Angler traffic was light throughout night, as a few hardy souls came and went. The bass traffic was similar: not here. Then here. Then gone. No large schools or consistent feeding. But the fish that showed came to eat. I had the early hot hand with a half dozen bass by midnight. Then Jenks caught fire. No keepers in the mix — I had bass in the 20″-24″ range with a couple 26″ers thrown in. What the fish lacked in size was made up for in pugnacity. Here’s a scrapper from early on. 

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I’m often asked, “How do you figure out what the bait is?” I suppose by now I qualify as a old salt, and old salts know that this time of year on Block it’s sand eels, sand eels, sand eels. You can feel then plinking and ploinking against your waders if you shuffle your feet. And sometimes the answer can be found in a photograph (look along the lateral line).

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The Big Eelie is a high-confidence pattern for me on Block. I fish it on a floating line on a dead drift, or with very short (6″) erratic, drunken strips. It doesn’t matter what color I choose (and I fish everything from dark to lighter fluorescents to dull hues) — it’s a profile and action pattern. And, as you can see, the bass love it. This used to be a beautiful Crazy Menhaden Big Eelie. Now it’s missing two saddles and most of the marabou collar. I was still catching on it when I switched it out at false dawn for a…wait for it…Big Eelie in RLS False Dawn colors.

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We did some surf fishing on the west side after midnight and again at sunrise. Conditions were about as good as you could hope for: a moving tide, moderate surf, and best of all, no weeds. Fish were present both times: stripers in the dark, and bass, bluefish, and shad in daylight. Here’s one that went bump in the night.

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There comes a point in the wee hours — for me, it’s usually around 2:30-3:00am — where the gas tank nears empty and the boilers almost out of steam. That’s when I take five (literally). It may seem counterintuitive to introduce a central nervous system depressant into the equation, but after closing my eyes I poured a wee drap of Highland whisky (Old Pulteney Navigator, which seemed highly apropos). I re-slogged out to the beach just before false dawn, and wouldn’t you know? I had hits on my first four casts. Never underestimate the mojo of single malt and a cigar! 

WeeDrap

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7:00am. Breakfast at Ernie’s. Hungryman Special: two eggs, two pancakes, bacon, and toast. (Thank you, Jenks, for being such a swell fishing partner.)  It feels amazing to have your first real meal in 12 hours. That hard wood bench on the ferry is going to feel even more amazing. I was lights out before we left the harbor. I don’t remember if I had any dreams, but right now I’m drifting off to a place where that sharp tug tells you the bass has committed to your fly and the ensuing battle is a bulldogging fight that only a Block Island striper can produce.

Ernies

Block Island All-Nighter X preview: not too shabby

I did my tenth Block Island All-Nighter this past Sunday into Monday. My fishing partner was old friend Peter Jenkins from The Saltwater Edge. I’m still in recovery mode (and playing catch-up on a bunch of other projects) so I haven’t had time to do a full write-up. But here are some broad brush strokes.

We flayed the water from 9pm to 6am. The fishing was good enough — 6.5 of 10. No consistent feeding, but stripers did show up in small bunches (and if you were willing to walk to find them). No keepers, a grim reminder that we are in a downturn, but on the flip side no micros: the vast majority of bass were 20-24″ with an occasional 26 mixed in, and those fish are great sport on a fly rod. Sand eels were the bait (and Big Eelies the fly) not present in great numbers but there. And yes, we had a darn good time.

A spunky 22-incher, set against a mosaic tile bottom. We repeatedly marveled at the raw power of these fish. Happy Father’s Day to us!

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Farmington River Report 6/17/20: a little wet, a little dry, a lot of fun

I guided Stephen Wednesday afternoon. We fished within the Permanent TMA from 2:15-6:15PM. Water was 280cfs and plenty cold. I wish we had a better hatch — there was no consistent hatching (and thus, no corresponding consistent feeding). Still, we managed to stick a bunch of fish. Best of all, we had the entire mark to ourselves, an increasing rarity on what has become a crowded destination river.

Check out the big wet fly brain on Stephen! This was not an easy fish to catch — it was haphazardly rising in some in-between water. We got nothing on our first three drifts. Surprise on the fourth! In my experience, if a trout doesn’t take the wet on the first pass, he’s less likely to take on the second, and even more so on the third. Thankfully, I don’t need to be right. Middle dropper was the selection, a Partridge and Light Cahill.

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We spent most of the session working on wets, in particular casting and presentation. Even though there was no sign of trout taking duns off the surface, we capped off the day with some dry fly fishing, again with the emphasis on casting and presentation. I also turned Stephen on to the The Usual (you’ve got a bunch a creamy colored ones from 16-20 in your box for sulphurs, right?). As you can see, the trout got turned on, too. Great job, Stephen!

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A hefty mid-teens Survivor Strain brown, taken on a Hackled March Brown wet.

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Farmington River Report 6/16/20: Wait for it.

Tuesday was shooting day on the Farmington. I met filmmaker Matthew Vinick and his crew around 2pm above the Permanent TMA. They reported an active hatch and feeding session in the early afternoon, but by the time we started filming at 2:30, it was…over. Done. Nada.

You keep hoping that it’s going to pick up — I mean, it will eventually, right? — but we were plagued with five hours of virtually no visible hatch activity and no feeding trout. You’d see a trout come up occasionally. But then, nothing. No rhythm, no continuity, no consistency. I felt awful for Cosmo and Byron and Matt, but when Mother Nature feeds you a poop sandwich, ya gotta hold your nose and eat it. And so we did.

It is my considered opinion that the State of Connecticut chose wisely in the naming of its state flower.

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So, after going oh-for-three, I stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and hit one out of the park. It was a 17-inch (a true rarity among all the 18-inchers on the Farmy, he said with good-spirited sarcasm) Survivor Strain brown buck who was lazily feeding in about a foot of water six feet off the bank.

See that frog water just off the rocks? That’s where the fish was holding, just at the left edge of the frame. I made a lucky cast, and the brown rose with confidence to the fly, fully committed to the take. Cosmo and Matt were shooting on either side of the rise, and I’m hoping they got a great moment of incidental magic on film. 

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Mr. Day Saver, taken on a size 16 Light Cahill dry. Accurately taped at 17″.

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Of course, after the crew went home the river lit up. Many active feeders beginning around 7:45, and continuing till dark. The trout in the faster water were keyed on sulphur emergers (a Magic Fly or Usual would serve you well), while the trout in the slower water were putting on a spinner sipping clinic. I couldn’t buy a fish for hours; in the last half hour, I stopped counting after six. At one point I had a fish on four consecutive casts.

The rousing finale had me galumphing this 20+” wild brown into my net. Taken on a size 16 Light Cahill dry. Here’s the release.

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Farmington River Mini-Report 6/16/20: Never leave the river before the spinner fall

Otherwise, you might miss opportunities like this. Taken at 9pm on a size 16 Catskills Light Cahill.

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More details on yesterday’s shoot tomorrow.

You oughta be in pictures

Today’s my day in the limelight. Filmmaker Matthew Vinick is making a short feature on  fly fishing the Farmington River, and I’ve been asked to participate. I met Matt in the Permanent TMA during the Hendrickson hatch, and he was sufficiently impressed by my wet fly prowess to want to include me. While the focus is on Farmington hatches and dry fly fishing, my part will be largely wet fly fishing. So…everybody send positive hatch waves, please.

Smile! The camera’s on you, miss soft-hackle eating beastie.

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Cape Striper Report: XS, M, and one regretful L

Four fishing trips in three days on the Cape sounds good to me. So let’s get started.

Thursday 6/11 PM: Arrival. The weather wasn’t great — wind and rain storm remnants — but we (myself and Number Two Son Cam) had a two-hour night window, so we jumped on it. We fished a mark in Chatham with a ripping current. I wasn’t crazy about the speed of the tide, but there were bass, albeit in micro form. I hooked up on my first non-cast — I was simply stripping line to get the shooting head out. Cam, who was spin fishing with a Yozuri Crystal Minnow, modified with single barbless hooks, landed two. We called it after and hour so we could rest up for our morning outing, which was…

…the Brewster Flats. Before:

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And after. This is the largest tidal flat in North America. While it’s unique and beautiful, it’s one place you don’t want to overstay your welcome. 

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Friday 6/12 AM: We met up with guide Cynthia Harkness of Fearless Fly Fishing. Cynthia is professional and knowledgable and does a great job communicating the wonders — and potential dangers — of fishing the flats. Despite the crowds, she picked out a great mark for us. Larger cruisers are always a possibility on the flats, but our lot was to be trading size for volume. On the plus side, skipper bass are a hoot on the surface. I wasn’t hooking up with a submerged fly, so I tied on a white Gurgler. Hilarity ensued. I lent Cynthia one of my spares so she could join the party. As the tide slacked, the bite faded, and we headed back to shore.

Striped bass will color match to their surroundings. These coin-bright skippers had a sea green back to contrast with their brilliant flanks. Here’s Cynthia’s first of many flats bass on a Chartreuse Gurlger.

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Friday 6/12 PM: The change of light can be a magic time, so we secured our mark early. I was hoping for some larger players, but it was skippers and more skippers. Cam and I hiked down the beach a half mile to try another mark, but it was still skipper city. By now it was night proper, and the tide was really moving. All these small fish proved to be my downfall — along with an out-of-the-box reel on which I hadn’t yet set the drag — when a 15-pound bass came calling. I should have known from the two rolls on the surface that I had a legal-plus fish. But I made the rookie mistake of not setting the hook. Once the bass realized it was hooked, it raced out into the channel, taking way too much line for my liking. When it reached deeper water, it sounded. I frantically tried to gain line, and when I did I couldn’t budge the fish. Increased pressure from me resulted in the sickening sensation of a slack line and the knowledge that it was all due to operator error.

Back at the house, I contemplated my shortcomings over a dram of 18-year old Sherry Oak The Macallan.

Saturday 6/13 PM: Solo trip. Revenge night? Not quite. The big one eluded me, although I did enjoy the flush of a half-dozen bass in the 20-26″ class over the course of 3 and 1/2 hours. Tremendous sport in a powerful current, and as an added bonus I got to learn the particulars of the drag. My last bass came after midnight. I’d moved to a different mark with less current. I missed him first shot, but a few casts later he came back. A perfect fish for a perfect ending. I hummed aloud as I followed my single-file footprints in the sand back to the Jeep.

Last bass of the trip, taken on a 6″ white deer-hair head contraption.

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